Pregnancy is a truly a miracle; creating new life gives you an appreciation for the power of the female body. Of course, that doesn’t mean that pregnancy is one nine-month-long bliss fest. Along with the joys and the beauty come a myriad of challenges that can make expectant mothers feel alone or uncertain.

I am just past the half way mark in my second pregnancy, expecting a little baby girl.  As a dietitian, the gulf between my book knowledge of pregnancy and my first hand experience of it can be pretty wide. As a mother, watching the similarities and differences between the two pregnancies has been fascinating. Here is what I have learned in my own pregnancies, which just might help you with yours.

One: You can’t fight your genetics

Sure, we all want to be slim with just a nice baby bump, but the reality is…most of us won’t look like that. In two pregnancies, weight gain has progressed much the same. By 12 weeks, I could no longer fit into any of my pre-pregnancy pants and people normally think I am a couple of months more along than I really am.

Two: You are going to need a thick skin

I have a pretty strong body image – and a disconnection between my self worth and my shape. However, for some reason, people consider it fair game to constantly talk about a pregnant woman’s shape. Hearing daily about how big you’ve grown or how you MUST be carrying twins can challenge the strongest woman.

Three: You have to surrender to the first trimester

You know all those rules about what you SHOULD be doing to stay healthy? Well, they all go out the window in your first trimester. The enormous hormonal shifts wreak havoc with your energy levels, your ability to sleep through the night and your desire to eat a healthy diet. Don’t allow guilt or shame to set in because all you can stomach is mac and cheese. Rest assured that the only thing you need to do in the first trimester is rest and take your multivitamin. Once those symptoms lift, hopefully at 12-14 weeks, then you can take positive action to stay healthy for the next six months.

Four: Take your omegas

DHA is a critical omega 3 for both the mother and her unborn child, and recent research suggests that new moms are not getting the message. DHA is essential for brain development in your baby and may help improve your own mood and stress response. According to early studies, DHA may lower cortisol in the pregnant woman and as omega 3 fatty acids help fight inflammation, they may help lower risk of preterm labour due to inflammatory stress.

Five: Exercise as much as you can, but be smart about it

This was a big learning for the real (not dietitian) me. I just couldn’t get it together to workout in my first pregnancy and as pregnancy progressed, I felt weak and tired and I gained 40 lbs in just 8 months. In this pregnancy, I vowed to commit to exercise. If you are already working out regularly, get help from a trainer to progress your workouts safely throughout your pregnancy. I found a wonderful prenatal program by Tracy Anderson that progresses with each month and my commitment to it has allowed me to feel strong and healthy in this pregnancy even though I am five years older this time around.

Six: Protein counts

Blame it on Instagram: I see all of these healthy role models posting pics of their veggie-heavy, completely protein free meals in pregnancy, and I worry about what expectant mothers are learning from that. Yes, fruits and vegetables are part of a healthy pregnancy but your body critically needs protein to help build new tissues for you and your baby. Every meal should have a concentrated source of protein, such as poultry, low mercury fish or Greek yogurt. If you are plant-based, make protein your mission. Start your day with a non-soy protein powder, eat organic tofu once a day at meals and pile a huge amount of beans on at mealtime. Aim for 75g of protein a day.

Seven: Put away the scale and listen to your body

Your doctor or midwife will weigh you at your appointment so the best thing you can do is put away your scale and stop focusing on numbers. Instead, listen to your body. The dietitian in me knows that you don’t need a great deal of extra calories to maintain a healthy pregnancy; however, there are times that the pregnant me is so gut achingly hungry that I can out-eat a teenaged boy. If anything about your weight gain is a concern, your health team will talk you through it. Instead, aim to eat as well as possible, give in to the occasional ice cream craving and honour this time.

What has pregnancy taught you? Would love to hear your thoughts over on my Facebook page!